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We need to remember lessons of Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941, 75 years ago today.   The site of the attack is on the south side of the Hawaiian island of Oahu and is the home to a U.S. naval base.  Seventy-five years later as we commemorate the anniversary, the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt calling Dec. 7 “a date which will live in infamy” again echo throughout the land.  The president’s speech to Congress heard by millions on the radio took place the next afternoon. A few hours later, the U.S. declared war on Japan. A few days later, the U.S. declared war on Germany.

Firsthand descriptions of December 7 have dwindled as nearly all the survivors of the attack have died. Hopefully the lessons learned by the county’s involvement in the war against both Japan and Germany remain.    

“The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor stunned every person who heard the news,” wrote Collin Baxter, East Tennessee State University professor, in an article in the History of Washington County Tennessee.  “On Monday, December 8, ten to fifteen boys were absent from Frank Tannewitz’s gym class at East Tennessee State Teachers College; they had gone to the post office to enlist for the armed forces… It was a time of intense patriotism when young and old, men and women, white and black, united behind the war effort…

“All too soon, the words ‘killed in action’ appeared in newspapers. Jonesborough youth, Alvin R. McKee, who had been in the Navy nearly a year, was reported to have been killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. Escaping injury on that ill-fated day were Clyde Waddell and ‘Sonny’ Maloney from Telford. Waddell was the first Telford youth to join the Navy, having enlisted in 1936 after graduating from Washington College.  Arriving safely home after a 5,400-mile trip by clipper plane and train (the Southern ‘streamliner’) from Hawaii, was Mrs. Charles F. Coe and her eight-year old-daughter, Charlotte, and her five-year-old son, Charles, Jr. The former Charlotte Sells, daughter of Johnson City Mayor Sam H. Sells, was married to a commander in the Naval Air Force on Hawaii.  Government officials in San Francisco had warned her not to do ‘any talking’ about conditions on the island.”

The Japanese attacked the U.S. without warning. The attack lasted 110 minutes, from 7:55 a.m. until 9:45 a.m.  A total of 2,335 U.S. servicemen were killed and 1,143 were wounded. Sixty-eight civilians were also killed and 35 wounded. The Japanese lost 65 men with an additional soldier being captured.  This year survivors, veterans and visitors from all over the world will visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. 

America’s reaction to the war would produce the “Greatest Generation.”  We honor those veterans today. World War II would also make the country a global power and, unfortunately, cause continuing struggles to bring democracy, peace and prosperity throughout the world. Today, the U.S. accounts for 40 percent of the world’s military expenditures and has troops stationed around the globe, including in Japan.

Inadequate intelligence-sharing among government agencies resulted in a failure to warn the military about the Pearl Harbor attack. After the war, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) was established to correct the failure. However, the CIA and other intelligence agencies failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks that stunned the nation and this generation of Americans. 

The lessons of Pearl Harbor appear twofold: the nation must be ever vigilant of attack from enemies, both foreign and domestic, and prepared to “rally around the flag” as occurred after the attack.

Finally, history needs to be remembered not only to honor those who have served but also to recall the terrible sacrifices made by all citizens when the nation goes to war.  Ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to cause grief to families whose sons and daughters are currently serving their country. In remembering Pearl Harbor, we honor all those currently serving in the military in both active and reserve roles.

  In this Christmas season, the Bible in relating the story of the birth of Jesus Christ quotes angels announcing “Peace on earth and good will to men.” Pearl Harbor is a dramatic announcement of why the world needs peace. May its lesson be taught to Americans for another 75 years.